December 15th, I awoke in the back of my pickup to frost covering a surplus mil bivy keeping the starry night desert temps at bay. I was tucked away in a secluded wash on New Mexico State Land, a small square among a sea of Bureau of Land Management ground mostly leased for drilling and cattle.
I was without human conversation but was certainly not alone. As I sparked the Petzo on my IsoPro backpacking stove, my British Lab Davy stretched the cold from his back legs and came over to see if there would be any donations to his suddenly uninteresting waxed cotton food bowl. Back home, he unabashedly devours dry food, but has recently taken up a fast while chasing birds in favor of bacon and campfire quail. As the season progressed, he refined this behavior and refused to eat anything but seared goose on a three-day hunt south of Amarillo. I also compared his field eating habits to those of a prison warden following a breakout. In the morning there is work to be done and eating can wait until the jailbirds are off the lam.
The night prior, by headlamp, I was closing out my yearly goal of finishing up the New Testament and found Revelations both haunting and historical. Wandering in the desert is nothing new. As the animals spoke, I glanced towards Davy as he became more human and wondered if I would spend a few centuries outside the gates for every time I was heavy handed trying to make him an honest gun dog.
2020 was a poor year for rain in these parts of the country and the bird numbers were a quarter of what they were when I saw them four years prior. With the same number of cows on the ground, cover has a hard time keeping up. I have no critique of the ranchers and oil men as this country would be inaccessible without the labyrinth of dirt roads and sand tracks that are kept up only to sustain their toils. Oddly, I almost prefer it this way as coveys are the fruit of labored lungs and worn soles instead of an expectation where limits can be had even with poor shooting.
Despite our best efforts, Davy and I were empty handed at 11 am. I decided to check the far backside of a highly trafficked watering hole and immediately caught a glimpse of silver and blue disappearing into short grass. Davy flushed the first bird which folded to an ounce of 7 1/2s. With the retrieve to hand, he immediately went back to work. Having lost sight of the birds Davy guided left and for 100 yards rigorously followed their scent before circling twice and nosing a single out a small bush.
Swing, shoot, retrieve.
I was ready to head back to the truck with the pair when Davy pushed back to our right and out of coverless dirt produced again.
Swing, shoot, retrieve.
Back at the truck I felt drunk with pride and peace; that feeling many have felt when the stars align in the field despite all of the nonsense back in the “world.”
With plans to read a bedtime book for my boys 6 ½ hours away, I started the long journey to hardpack but wanted to get an eye on a new area on my way out. You can call it “one more cast.” I found birds and in short order Davy had them in the air. I picked the closest and drew my cheek to wood as my eye, bead, and bird came together. As if pulling the battery, three birds lay stone cold dead. Counting six as I put them on ice I said to Davy, “Triple, Triple.”